Virtual Memories Show 425:
Vivian Gornick

“I’m a writer who developed around the practice of lucid, simple, compact writing. I turned out to be something of a minimalist. . . . but for a long time I felt myself a negligible writer because I couldn’t write big.”

Literary and feminist legend Vivian Gornick joins the show to celebrate her new collection, Taking A Long Look: Essays on Culture, Literature, and Feminism in Our Time (Verso Press). We talk about the biggest shock of looking back at her work for this career-spanning collection, why she organized it from most recent to oldest, and the difference between being smart and being wise. We get into the process of discovering her voice and figuring out she’s a minimalist, how she got better at judging her own work, her criteria for culling books from her apartment (and her embarrassment when one showed up in an unexpected place), the importance of rereading (and why she wrote a book about it), and why the New York Review of Books recently said she “has long enjoyed an audience of literary depressives and feminists”. We also discuss her 1970s essays on feminism, the movement’s evolution in the past 50 years, how the Brilliant Exception became the rule, why political correctness if different than ideological splits, the New York she loves most, and why she’s dying to go to a movie theater again. Give it a listen! And go read Taking a Long Look and Unfinished Business, and sheesh, all her other books, like Fierce Attachments!

“Our generation of feminists was unusual, not historically, but in terms of the lives we’re living now. Ours is the generation that raised it all over again. The generations that follow are somehow ground down because they don’t have that revolutionary excitement and energy.”

“If the thinking is sloppy, if it doesn’t justify itself, that’s the biggest shock in reading your own stuff.”

“Every year I go through my books and I ask, ‘Are you going to read this again? Are you EVER going to read this? Is this something I emotionally have to keep on the shelf?’

“If you have the talent and the drive — which are the least part of accomplishment — then if you live long enough and are privileged enough to become more and more yourself, then that’s the way the work should fulfill itself.”

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Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Vivian Gornick is a writer and critic whose work has received two National Book Critics Circle Award nominations and been collected in The Best American Essays 2014. Growing up in the Bronx amongst communists and socialists, Gornick became a legendary writer for Village Voice, chronicling the emergence of the feminist movement in the 1970s. Her works include the memoirs Fierce Attachments — ranked the best memoir of the last fifty years by The New York Times — and The Odd Woman and the City, and Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader, as well as the classic text on writing, The Situation and the Story.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Vivian by someone else. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 424:
Jen Silverman

“What strikes me is how our culture has evolved such that if we’re not being witnessed we feel like we don’t exist. The desire for fame is really just the desire to be witnessed to such a degree that you feel like you HAVE to exist.”

What price fame? With her debut novel, We Play Ourselves (Random House), writer and playwright Jen Silverman tells a comedic tale of theater life gone wrong, internet humiliation, a teenage feminist fight club, queer absurdist puppetry, the boundaries of documentary filmmaking, and a lot more. We get into the roots of her novel, what writing for theater and TV/film taught her and what she had to unlearn for this book, how she balanced her love for absurdism with narrative realism, and how to figure out which stories belong in which medium. We talk about the difference between “theater” and “Broadway” and how the pandemic has wiped out the communal experience of theater (for now), how the economics of theater can perpetuate a lack of diversity and how it feels to be “the woman” playwright in a season, how she learned to navigate the heightened unreality of LA, the difference in searching for The Path and finding A Path, why the hunger for being seen can warp pretty much all human activities, why she draws sad pandas, and more! Give it a listen! And go read We Play Ourselves!

“I’m really interested in art forms that reflect us back to ourselves in unexpected ways.”

“In theater what I’m doing revolves around the question, ‘What is the invitation that I’m extending to my audience?’ How am I inviting them into this space, this live gathering that can only happen in a theater? A novel is not theater, and it felt like a couple lifetimes of me asking, ‘What is a novel?'”

“Absurdist theater is a very specific tool for thinking about power dynamics, about politics, about human relations inside communities.”

“Since the pandemic, the more plays I’ve read on the page the more I found myself able to engage with the art form as a form that I love, as opposed to the absence of theater in my life.”

“Each play is a new interrogation. In my process, form and content and the way they talk to each other is very important, so each play by necessity takes on a different form than the last play or the next play.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Jen Silverman is a New York–based writer and playwright. She is the author of the story collection The Island Dwellers, which was longlisted for a PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for debut fiction. Her plays have been produced across the United States and internationally, and she also writes for television and film. She is a two-time MacDowell Colony fellow, a member of New Dramatists, and the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts grant, a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Fellowship, the Yale Drama Series Award, and a Playwrights of New York Fellowship. Her new novel is We Play Ourselves.

Follow Jen on Twitter and Instagram. She draws sad pandas.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Jen by Zackary Canepari.

Virtual Memories Show 419:
Nadia Owusu

“I don’t see home as a single place. It’s all the people and places I lived among, and loved, and tried to belong to. Through my love for them, I claim them. Not in uncomplicated ways.”

With her debut memoir, Aftershocks (Simon & Schuster), Nadia Owusu explores the fault lines of identity, race, and justice, and the ways trauma and myths are transmitted through the generations. We talk about her upbringing in Europe (UK& Italy) and Africa (Ghana, Tanzania & Ethiopia), the meanings of skin color in different cultures, her social justice work, and what she had to learn about race in America. We get into what it’s like to live on high alert, how we reclaim our stories and reframe our world, how Aftershocks evolved from private project to public document, and how even thin soil can let us extend roots. Give it a listen! And go read Aftershocks!

“In some ways, the writing of the book was intentionally a process for me to explore myself and learn and grow.”

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“I came to know in a deep way how the Ashanti people — the culture my father came from – believe the ancestors are always with us, that they’re part of our day-to-day lives.”

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Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Nadia Owusu is a Brooklyn-based writer and urban planner. She is the recipient of a 2019 Whiting Award. Her lyric essay So Devilish a Fire won the Atlas Review chapbook contest. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the New York Times, the Washington Post’s The Lily, Literary Review, Electric Literature, Epiphany, and Catapult. Aftershocks is her first book.

Follow Nadia on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Nadia by Beowulf Sheehan. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 418:
Sven Birkerts

“Rather than try to think of a book to write about, why don’t I try to think about where I am in the world, in my life, and my preoccupations, and see if an author announces him- or herself?”

Is it unhip to search for a meaningful pattern in life? Sven Birkerts rejoins the show to talk about his new book, Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory: Bookmarked (IG Publishing), which explores time, memory, and those aforementioned meaningful patterns. We get into Sven’s history with Nabokov’s memoir, his own impulse toward memoir as he approached 50, and the challenge of writing about someone whose prose is as incandescent as Nabokov’s. We talk about larger questions of literary greatness, the nature of individuality in an age of distributed social networks, whether Nabokov’s best-known book will survive, and what other books and authors have become “unsafe” for undergrad readers. We also gab about packing one’s library, finding the perfect notebook, and what the post-pandemic world may look like. Give it a listen! And go read Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory: Bookmarked!

“Rather than try to think of a book to write about, why don’t I try to think about where I am in the world, in my life, and my preoccupations, and see if an author announces him- or herself?”

“If you start to press down on Nabokov’s prose, that really begins to reveal that it’s not just, ‘Oh, that’s a nice sentence,’ but the sentence has an architecture, that many things come together to give it form and create that response.”

“Approaching 50, I isolated a very specific image that captured the impulse to memoir. Things no longer happened singly, for themselves; they resonated against things in the past. . . . Approaching 70, I’m more interested in memory, but I’m hardly interested in anything that happened after 50.”

“I believe if you find the absolute right paper and notebook, and pen, anyone can become Tolstoy. It’s just a matter of those two things.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Sven Birkerts has been co-editor of the literary magazine AGNI since July 2002. Among his previous books are Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age; The Other Walk; Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again; Reading Life: Books for the Ages; American Energies: Essays on Fiction; The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age; Readings; and My Sky Blue Trades: Growing Up Counter in a Contrary Time. He was winner of the Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle and the Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award from PEN for the best book of essays. He was the director of the Bennington Writing Seminars from 2007-2017 and has been a member of the core faculty since its founding in 1994. His new book is Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory: Bookmarked.

Follow Sven on Twitter and Instagram.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Sven by Mara Birkerts, photo of typerwriter & such by Sven. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 416:
Wendung

“At 50, everyone has the face he deserves,” said George Orwell, but he died at 47, so what does he know? To celebrate turning 50, I use an obscure Woody Allen movie to talk about why I can’t take stock of my life. Then the good part: I ask nearly 40 guests of the podcast one question, “What do you wish you’d done before the pandemic?” (You can skip right to that at 18:45.) Participants include Witold Rybczynski, Kathe Koja, John Holl, Emily Flake, Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, Ian Kelley, David Townsend, John Bertagnolli, Jennifer Hayden, Richard Kadrey, Joan Marans Dim, Liniers, Sven Birkerts, Barbara Nessim, David Leopold, Tess Lewis, Ken Krimstein, Michael Shaw, Dmitry Samarov, Maria Alexander, Paul C. Tumey, Kyle Cassidy, Henry Wessells, Warren Woodfin, ES Glenn, Philip Boehm, Woodrow Phoenix, Rian Hughes, Alta L. Price, Derf Backderf, Frank Santoro, Boaz Roth, Carol Tyler, David Mikics, Michael Gerber, Walter Bernard, Whitney Matheson and Dean Haspiel! Help me celebrate, commemorate, commiserate, or whatever, and give it a listen!

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

I’m just this guy, you know?

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. Respondents either recorded their own segments and e-mailed them to me or called my Google Voice # and left a message. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface to record my prattling. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of me with this morning’s sunrise by me. It’s on my instagram.